Part 1: Losing Woolfolk - How will the Michigan Wolverines D Compensate?
This is the first of a two part series.
As we all know, cornerback, Troy Woolfok, Michigan’s most experienced cornerback, suffered an extremely unfortunate season-ending injury in practice. He has since had successful surgery on his dislocated ankle and broken leg. We can't wait to get him back next year. Woolfolk was not only in phenomenal shape, he had also become Michigan’s most vocal leader. It took major brass cajones for him to call out Tate Forcier at Big Ten media day. Only someone who is truly 100% dedicated to The Team would risk the backlash that comes from some fans and media whenever you make such an unusual and bold move. The entire Michigan family wishes Troy a complete and speedy recovery.
Woolfolk's injury leaves an already heavily depleted secondary one man thinner. Prior to his injury, the Wolverines had already lost FIVE different 4-5 star players and recruits who could have made a major impact on the field in 2010. Within the past 12 months, Boubackar Cissoco, Donovan Warren, Demar Dorsey, Adrian Witty, and JT Turner would have all been expected to see the field this year. Now, they are all gone for a variety of reasons.
So let's take a good look, one position group at a time, at how Michigan will attempt to protect the young secondary.
Denard Robinson (Wait - Isn't This About Defense?)
Denard is so fast, he can cover any receiver out there. Count on him making the move to the secondary to help the team this year.
OK, relax, I'm just kidding about the position switch. But seriously, how many hundreds of times have you heard the saying, “The best defense is a good offense”? It’s simple but true: If your offense controls the ball, the other team gets out of rhythm, the defense stays fresh, and you win a lot of games.
Oh, and, uh, as the ultimate master of the obvious, if you score a ton of points, the defense doesn’t have to be as dominant. I fully expect Pat White, I mean Denard Robinson, to be the main guy running the show under center this year. As I mentioned in my quick preview about the Michigan offense, I fully expect this offense to average around 35 points per game. Here's a link to that article if you want to familiarize yourself with some of the big time players on the offense - aka The Michigan Express: http://bleacherreport.com/articles/439047-denard-robinson-david-molk-2-reasons-michigan-is-back
GB2SL (Go Blue, God Bless Shoelace).
Another Robinson: Defensive Coordinator Greg Robinson
This guy has really been around the block and has a resume like no other defensive coordinator in college football. He spent 14 total years in the NFL as a coach – 10 of them as a defensive coordinator. He was the Denver Broncos’ DC when they won their back to back Super Bowls in '98 and '99. The Bronco defense, which had pretty typical talent by NFL standards, was 6th and 8th in the league in points allowed.
Robinson also has enjoyed tremendous success in college as UCLA’s DC and defensive line coach. The Bruins won 3 Rose Bowls under his tenure. Sounds great. The big downside is that those Rose Bowls were way back in the early 80’s. To put that in perspective, none of his players today were even born yet.
Along with his successes, Robinson has also endured some horrendous seasons in both the pros and college. Some of his other NFL stints ended up with his defense at or near the very bottom of the league. His head coaching tenure at Syracuse was also an abysmal failure from 2005 – 2008. They only won 10 out of his 47 games at the helm. Ouch!
It's well known that Robinson has simplified the defense this year. Obviously he isn’t going to give away any schemes that he is using to protect the secondary - but this is where his immense experience should really shine through.
The bottom line is that Robinson’s current coaching reputation is on the line. I’m personally glad that we have a Mr. Experience at the helm to guide the young secondary and protect them as much as possible.
The Defensive Line Should Wreak Havoc
OK, so the first two items were guys who don’t even play on defense – and in the end, players have to make plays.
Despite the loss of all-around ultra-mega-super-stud Brandon Graham, the defensive line should be a force to be reckoned with this year. This is now a veteran group that should be downright nasty. By smashing the run and forcing teams to be one dimensional - and then mercilessly rushing the passer - this unit is one of the main factors in protecting our young DB's and safeties.
My personal favorite player on the D is big Mike Martin. In 2008, he made The Sporting News’ 2nd team All-Freshman team. Last year, despite playing with a shoulder injury that required off-season surgery, he more than doubled his tackles (51). Although MM is primarily known as a beast of a run-stopper, he has the strength, health, and explosiveness to completely destroy the pocket for opposing QB’s this year. Oh, by the way, I think he is very seriously pissed off this year as well. An angry, healthy Mike Martin? LOOK OUT!
Next up is DE Ryan Van Bergen. As a 4* recruit coming out of Whitehall, MI, RVB was listed at 250 lbs in high school. Now, as a redshirt junior, he has packed on another 33 pounds of muscle in the Barwis program. Van Bergen is a returning 12 game starter who had 40 tackles and five sacks. This is another guy that teams will be forced to double team this year.
Michigan also has 2 seniors that are primed to deliver the best results of their career: Greg Banks and Renaldo Sagesse. Although they have shown flashes of potential, it is time for them to really step up as seniors. With Big Mike and RVB on the line, these seniors will attract less attention and should be able to win a ton of one on on battles.
True sophomore Will Campbell has really reshaped his body. When he got to Michigan, he was a really big kid. Particularly in the midsection.
After just one year on campus, he now looks like a much more athletic big man. That said, it sounds like Big Will is still fighting his way up the depth chart to try and earn playing time. Expect his big body to contribute as an important backup this year - particularly against running teams or short yardage.
One true frosh that has earned a lot of attention is Defensive End Jibreel Black. RichRod recently said that he expects JB to contribute this year. Black has taken over the now legendary #55 (vacated by Brandon Graham). It sounds like Jibreel is flashing early potential to do justice to the legendary double nickel.
Expect the D-Line to be the biggest strength of the defense. They have a nice mix of experience and young talent. If this unit somehow under-performs, the Michigan D will be in complete shambles again this year. However, that seems extremely unlikely. The D Line will rock!
How Are the Linebackers Going To Play This Year
Another true sophomore, Craig “Death” Roh, has high expectations. He started all 12 last year and made the Sporting News Freshman All Big Ten team. Expect Death Roh to line up all over the place as a hybrid linebacker / defensive end. At 6’5” Roh is extremely fast for a guy who weighs in at 251 lbs. He has packed on 15 pounds of muscle in the off-season and is really looking to take his game to the next level. Hopefully Roh spends a lot of time terrorizing quarterbacks this year. With his monster wingspan, Roh should also be able to knock down a good number of passes at the line of scrimmage and on underneath routes. I can easily imagine him intercepting a screen pass (or two or three) and taking it back to house! With his new size, he should also be more effective against the run.
Jonas Mouton is clearly a competitive guy. As a senior, he needs to make sure he doesn’t take any silly late hit or frustration penalties. Last year, video review showed him sucker punch a guy who had been frustrating Jonas with his own dirty play. From all accounts, Jonas has had a great off-season and is ready to put an inconsistent season behind him. Mouton is on the national pre-season watch list for best linebacker.
Speaking of inconsistency, we have the curious case of fellow senior Obi Ezeh. Ezeh seemed like a fixture last year until losing his starting job towards the end of the season and then starting again after a couple of games. We’ll find out how much he is able to elevate his game from last year. Look for Ezeh to be featured in games where opponents have strong running games.
RS Soph Kenny Demens was a 4* recruit out of high school, but has yet to make a significant impact on the defense. It remains to be seen if he will see the field more in his 3rd year in the program.
Overall, this group is good enough to make plenty of plays - as long as the D-Line holds up as well as expected.
I hope you've enjoyed Part I of the defensive preview. Part II will be published in the next day or two and will cover 3 more slides: 1) "The Bandit Marvin Robinson," 2) "Last But Not Least: The Secondary," and 3) an overall summary of the defense.